I am a painter in the traditional sense. Before 2000, I mainly painted people and I had also done a lot of painting on different materials such as geographic balls, darts and so on. I then began to paint the objects around me. When I began painting objects, it was a change of thinking; I found a new way for my career as artist.
In terms of my space paintings, I am influenced by the ancient form of Chinese painting that paints directly on to walls, and also by certain parts of western culture. I focus on the relationship between material and wall; space itself is structured, but people zoom around it. In 2007, I completed a project in Antwerp, which became the first space painting. In addition, I have since produced space paintings at The Eighth Gwanju Biennale, The 6th Curitiba Biennial, Minsheng Art Museum and at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Since the Kochis-Muziris Biennale in India, my space paintings have become non specific colours and objects. The colours are more abstract. For the Biennale, I used typical Indian colours like bordeaux (mulberry) and navy blue: these are very special colours in India and for me. For me, memory becomes a tool for art, in particular, the expression expressed in memory.
I try to find interesting things from both the east and the west, however I do not draw a line in terms of which one is most important. Aside from ancient Chinese Painting, the period before the Renaissance and during the Renaissance, as well as the Impressionists, in particular Manet, and also Francis Bacon, have all been a big influence for me.
Light is extremely important in my paintings. I always choose to complete my paintings in the same condition using artificial light. I like to use light colours – and in a very simple way – to finish my paintings, and always paint in this good light condition in order to finish the painting in they I want. If I were to paint in natural light, the light would change throughout the day, affecting my work. Consequently, the colours in the painting would be much more different.
Art has no boundaries and is a personal expression. As an artist, I always use my own personal feeling or personal view to express myself. Of course, I am influenced by outside elements, but you don’t just take it and use it yourself. You take it and digest it and then what you create becomes something different.
Being a professional artist provides me with a certain degree of freedom. Through my paintings I am able to express my thinking and myself. In the past, I used to teach at a university, but I didn’t want different elements, like teaching and the art market, to affect my practice as an artist. In terms of advice, it is hard to give advice. But I would say: try, try, try and try.
Zhang Enli was in conversation with Stephanie Bailey